Beyond giving students’ family and friends something to cheer for, a school summer performance offers an objective opportunity to assess the quality of the students and by definition the health of the school itself.
There was no doubting the performers’ commitment, all three years offering polished performances in a wide range of works which, school artistic director Viviana Durante said, were meant to show their versatility, knowledge and talent.
It was, however, a puzzling selection of work. The highlight of the evening was Andrew McNicol's Grace & Gravity (pictured top), which suited the school’s second year students to a T. A neo-classical work for an ensemble and eight soloists set to music by J S Bach, it relied on flowing movement and clean lines, its pure visual accentuated by the dancers’ simple white costumes. All they had to do was dance, and dance they did, the ensemble relishing their well-drilled synchronicity, the soloists making the most of their chance to shine.
Grace & Gravity featured the one dancer who caught my eye: Milei Lee. I’m going to stick my neck out and say this natural performer has a bright future.
Also interesting was the brief contemporary pas de deux Legendary Beasts, choreographed by third year student Ella Matthews and danced with tremendous aplomb by her colleagues Shizuku Ogawa and Nicolò Zanotti.
Elsewhere, though, the programme offered incomprehensible choices. It opened with a selection of extracts from Bournonville works. Now, August Bournonville was the man who developed the exacting and unique Danish ballet style – not very many non-Danish-trained dancers can dance it as it should be danced. The students tried their best, but Bournouville it certainly wasn’t, so it all seemed rather pointless.
The same caveats apply to the choice of Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody to end the show. Created in 1980 to mark the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday, it's all about dance as the continuous flow of intricate, lace-like movement. The central male role was choreographed for the Russian virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov.
It's a brutally difficult role full of bravura steps; while the lead female role is all airy, lightning-fast footwork with abrupt, unexpected changes of direction, keeping soft upper body and the famous, but not easy to reproduce, Ashtonian back and épaulement.
The students got through the steps (with some worryingly heavy landings from the men), but none managed to master the Ashton style.
My Home Around Borders by Alleyne Dance was their usual ponderous, vaguely threatening, overlong bore; you pitied the third year students kitted out in boiler suits and performing in near-darkness on whom this nonsense was inflicted.
But to end on a positive note, Étude for Character, a demonstration of the varied character dances which make up such a key part of the classics, was jolly and entertaining, and the first year students clearly enjoyed showing off their prowess (the men) and pretty dancing (the women).
|What||English National Ballet School's Summer Performance review|
|Where||Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London, WC2A 2HT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Holborn (underground)|
02 Jul 22 – 03 Jul 22, Sat at 19:30, Sun at 14:30 Dur.: 2 hours 15 mins approx inc one interval
|Price||£10-£25 (+ booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|